EAST HARLEM — Standing in a playground at Lincoln Houses, Mayor Bill de Blasio told the crowd to applaud workers who were dismantling scaffolding that stood for almost two years even though no work was being done on the buildings above.
The removal was part of a plan to dismantle miles of sidewalk sheds from New York City Housing Authority developments around the city. It was also part of a campaign promise made when he was one of five mayoral candidates to spend a night with families at the complex in July 2013.
So far this year, 13,000 feet of sheds have been removed from public housing around the city. By April 2015, de Blasio said he hoped to have 43,000 feet, or nearly 8 miles worth, removed because they contribute to a sense of neglect and, police said, allow criminals to hide weapons and drugs.
New cameras and lighting are also on the way for 15 of the most crime-plagued developments around the city, de Blasio said, adding that $210 million in city money has already gone to improve conditions at NYCHA developments. Lincoln will get 214 new cameras.
While many Lincoln residents applauded the mayor's initiative, he was heckled twice. Other residents said much more needs to be done before their lives are better.
"Crackheads are sleeping in the hallways and we have to step over human excrement in the morning on the way to work," said Veronique Baker, 53, a lifelong resident of Lincoln Houses and Department of Education employee. "What he said today is good but the question is will it continue to get better?"
It's no secret that NYCHA's buildings are crumbling. By the agency's own estimates it has more than $13 billion in unmet capital funding for its 344 developments that house 400,000 residents. The deficit for 2014 was $191 million.
At the same time, federal funding is shrinking. Through 2018, the agency expects $230 million less in federal funding per year than it is eligible for. Comptroller Scott Stringer is conducting a full audit of the agency.
Lincoln resident Crystal Brown said de Blasio's announcement did not move her. Just two days after the mayoral candidates slept over at Lincoln last year, her daughter Olivia Brown was gunned down, allegedly by another woman, in a dispute.
"They make promise after promise after promise and nothing is being done," Brown said.
But others called for patience. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district in East Harlem and The Bronx has the highest concentration of public housing in the city, said de Blasio was "committed to figuring out ways how we can continue to preserve public housing."
Rev. Al Sharpton, who invited the candidates to sleep over at Lincoln Houses last year, said the changes are a step in the right direction.
"NYCHA tenants were treated like they were not even part of the city," said Sharpton. "They are part of the city. They go to work everyday. They struggle to raise their families everyday."
NYPD Chief of Housing Carlos Gomez said crime in public housing has dropped 4 percent.
Since July 1, crime in NYCHA developments has dropped 13 percent, murders are down 18 percent and shootings are down 11 percent compared to this time last year even as shootings across the city are up 10 percent, said Gomez.
Even so, Tara Martin, who has lived at Lincoln Houses for 15 years, said she plans to take a wait-and-see approach.
"I'm ecstatic the scaffolding is going down because it does nothing but harbor crime," said Martin. "But I'm still going to watch the mayor's progress and see if the work he says will get done actually gets done."